Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion

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I’ve always been more a fan of continuations than re-tellings or re-imaginings, so among the three Madoka movies, this was the one that I anticipated the most. I only skimmed through the first two, which were only recaps of a show I finished watching over four years ago, but which remains burned in my brain as one of my all-time favorites. Heck, Sayaka is my avatar.

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I also recently dropped Sailor Moon Crystal, because a straightforward magical girl tale just never appealed to me as much as a subversion or deconstruction of same, which Madoka is. With Rebellion, the recaps are over, and I finally get to see what happened after Madoka sacrificed her very existence in order to save Homura and her friends. And I have to say, I liked what I saw.

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After Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, and Kyouko dispatch a “nightmare,” Rebellion begins as if a reset button had been pressed. Madoka awakes and goes through the same morning motions as she does in the first episode of the tv show. Then a twin-braided, bespectacled, friendly and cheerful Akemi Homura transfers in, befriends Madoka and the others, and soon joins them in their periodic nightmare battles.

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Even when their classmate Shizuki turns into a nightmare, they’re able to change her back into a normal human without any harm done. This is an ideal world in which everything is too good to be true. Ironically, it’s a world I, as someone who wants these girls to simply be able to enjoy such a life without further hardship, don’t have that big a problem with! Everyone’s alive; everyone’s friends; everyone is working together; and there seem to be no consequences to being magical girls.

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Homura goes through enough of this that she eventually begins to suspect something is very wrong, as memories of past worlds she inhabited begin to surface. In this way, the movie starts with the “Happily Ever After.” But Homura’s returning memories, vague as they are, become a splinter in her mind she cannot ignore, so both the Happy and the Ever After eventually fade for her.

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Homura takes Sakura with her to the town where Sakura says she used to live, yet doesn’t remember much about it. Yet no matter how many times hey take the bus or even walk, they can’t seem to leave Mitakihara City; as if there’s nothing beyond it. In a movie full of memorable sequences, this entire surreal journey to nowhere is particularly goosebump-inducing, with sound and image in perfect strange harmony.

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This leads Homura to believe this is a false city where she and the others are being imprisoned. She suspects Bebe, Mami’s familiar whom we’ve never seen before, of being a witch, but Mami, having no idea what’s going on, intervenes and threatens punishment if Homura hurts Bebe. But Homura isn’t about to let the mastermind behind this plot go.

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That can only mean one thing: Mami and Homura square off with lots and lots of guns and acrobatics in what I’d describe as one of the best one-on-one battle sequences in the Madoka franchise. It wasn’t just the speed and complexity of the battle that excited, but all the twists and turns it took, from Homura threatening to shoot herself in the head, causing Mami to drop her guard so she can shoot her in the leg, only for her target to be a decoy Mami set up. All because these two girls couldn’t talk it out and let tempers flare.

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Sayaka flies in frees Homura from Mami’s custody, while a Bebe in human form comes to explain things to Mami. When they’re alone, Sayaka asks Homura why things can’t just stay the way they are if everyone’s happy. But her knowledge that something isn’t right is proof that while this is the “real” Sayaka, she’s more than just a magical girl now.

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Later that night, Madoka finds Homura drifting in a canal boat (another gorgeous, lyrical sequence), and they discuss what’s eating her: that being the thought that nothing here is real and there was another time when she lost Madoka and tried desperately to bring her back. Madoka assures her those were all just bad dreams; they’re together here and now, that’s all that matters.

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Homura is convinced this Madoka is the real one too, but she wants to test one last thing: whether she herself is even a magical girl. She does this by tossing away her soul gem and traveling past the maximum distance she can be from it (a tried and true method from the original show). When nothing happens, she knows things aren’t right in the world. Then that world starts to deteriorate around her, and the reality descends upon her that she is a witch, and this false city is a construct of her own making.

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The world around her starts to deteriorate, as the reality descends upon her that she is a witch, and this is false city is a construct of her own making. Then Kyuubey shows up and starts talking. More precisely, Homura is a magical girl on the cusp of becoming a witch, due to the despair of losing Madoka and being the only one who remembers her. The Incubators placed her in an isolated space as an experiment to lure the godlike Madoka, the “The Law of Cycles”, whom they hoped to control in order to maximize the energy they can harvest from magical girls becoming witches.

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When Madoka came to where Homura was, she lost the memory of her duty and powers as the Law of Cycles, and became trapped in the false city along with her two assistants, Sayaka and Bebe. While this sounds a little convoluted on paper, in practice it’s perfectly consistent with vulnerability of the damaged Homura the TV show (and previous movie) ended with, and the cold opportunism of the Incubators.

It also makes sense that Homura would choose to complete her witch transformation at the cost of her own soul, in order to keep the Incubators from screwing with Madoka anymore. Because it’s not a self-preserving move, it’s a move they don’t see coming. But the other magical girls arrive and go against her wishes, freeing her from the false city and find her real body in a desolate wasteland.

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It’s a move that restores Madoka’s memories and powers as Law of Cycles back, but at a price: Madoka is once again exposed to the Incubator’s meddling, not to mention the still-alive Homura’s own desires. When she descends upon Homura to clear her soul gem of despair, Homura grabs her and releases the contents of the gem, which isn’t despair, but love, the ‘most powerful of emotions’ and the one Kyuubey is least equipped to understand. This is Homura following through on her promise never to let Madoka go, having been given an opportunity she didn’t ask for, but did hope for.

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Things get more and more out of hand from there, with Homura suppressing Madoka’s godlike powers and transforming into a kind of Anti-Law of Cycles, calling herself a “demon” in contrast to Madoka’s angel-like form. With her new powers, she rewrites the laws of the universe just as Madoka once had, only this time both of them are alive and well in a real world, not a mere illusion caused by the experimentation of the Incubators.

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In this new world, Madoka is the transfer student rather than Homura, and sports a yellow ribbon rather than red, which Homura sports instead. Homura still has all her memories of what went on in the previous universes, and it shows on her universe-weary, glasses-less face. Her love for Madoka is a twisted, possessive love now, borne from pressing countless reset buttons and literally going to hell and back.

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So, all’s well that ends well, right? Well…no. This is Madoka we’re talking about. Homura merely suppressed Madoka’s Law of Cycle powers, and her memory of them. The powers are still there, and even while she’s showing Madoka around the school, a momentary recollection has her suddenly about to transform back into that godlike being.

Homura has to embrace her tightly to stop the transformation, but a time will probably come when she can’t, and the angel and demon will become enemies with opposing goals. In other words, all’s well that ends well for the time being, if you happen to be on Homura’s side. This is very much in keeping with the franchises refusal to hand out happy or even easy endings, preferring qualified, ambiguous, or just plain strange ones. After all that’s happened, consequences and compromises were inevitable. The show doesn’t rule out future problems…nor future rewrites of the universe.

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The post-credits sequence is strange indeed, but again, nothing new for this franchise. Sitting high above the city she in effect controls, apparently content with the way things are (again, for now), and fully equipped and prepared to defend the way things are, whether it’s keeping Madoka from rising back to godhood or keeping Kyuubey neutralized.

If Homura has to be “evil” in order to share the real world with the one she loves by suppressing her true nature, so be it.

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Space Dandy 2 – 05

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After a middling high school musical episode, Dandy bounces back with a particularly spiffy alien twist on the classic “Big Fish” adventure. It starts as an ordinary fishing trip, with QT lording his expertise over everyone, until Meow suggests they fish for something that will make them money. To whit: the legendary Munagi of the planet Kayu.

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A bit of defining: we learned after watching that Munagi means “ridgepole” while Kayu means “porridge.” And Kayu indeed is a world with an exceedingly thick, goopy, viscous ocean. The world is also suitably alien and bizarre-looking, looking influenced by some canny combination of Dali, Seuss, Dunning, and Hokusai.

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When the Aloha Oe is stuck in space kelp(!), Dandy teleports to Kayu and meets the small, adorable Erssime, who lives with her grandfather(?) L’Delise, a seasoned fisherman. These two happen to be the only ones who, like Dandy, believe in the Munagi, but L’Delise wants nothing to do with Dandy and snorts at his feeble attempts to catch it.

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We’re treated to another lovely Dandy montage of Dandy and Erssime fishing in various strange landscapes. Eventually some other locals laugh at Dandy for believing the ramblings of a little kid and a weird old man. The legend doesn’t even make sense: the Munagi is said to come on a blue moon, but Kayu has no moon.

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But then, one stormy night, a blue moon does appear; in actuality it’s the blue Rubini Comet, which last passed by Kayu 3600 years ago, matching the timing of the Munagi legend. L’Delise and Dandy put their differences aside and, with the help of Erssime, Meow, QT, and a gaggle of convinced locals, get a good grip on the emerging Munagi.

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Ultimately, the King Munagi and all of its smaller subjects are far to collossal to be caught, and in any case they’ve risen to the surface in order to hitch a ride on the very comet that deposited them at Kayu nearly four milennia ago. They lost the Munagi, but everyone is safe, and the collective experience brought everyone closer together.

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Dandy, Meow, and QT end up in the same place they were in the beginning: fishing, with Meow suggesting they catch something profitable. After all, there are plenty of fish (-populated planets) in the sea (of stars). Unlike the high school ep, this one took it well-tread story—the Big Fish Tale—and put a truly creative, whimsical spin on it.

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Space Dandy 2 – 04

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There are Space Dandy episodes I can run out onto the parquet dance floor and bust various moves with, and then there are those where I’m just kind of chilling in the periphery of the venue, sitting on a folding chair, sipping some punch, and tapping my foot, half to the beat, half impatiently. This was one of those latter episodes.

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Dandy has done a lot of different stuff, but hadn’t tackled the “high school musical” genre yet. But it just didn’t feel like its heart was in it in the same way it is for all of its trippy, metaphysical, and high concept episodes. As Dandy remarks upon first meeting his future prom date, much of the episode had a “well-honed plainness” to it. Much of the ground it covers has already been covered in better ways.

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A good musical, high school or no, has to have good songs, but most of the songs here were seriously lacking. The lyrics were dull, simplistic, and repetitive, and the pacing of the song and dance numbers dragged on way too long: the Queen Bee describing the school’s caste pyramid took up way too much time, and even if the awkward pacing was intentional, it just felt like stalling.

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That said, it was still a fun episode with some good bits: Dandy getting shot down by increasingly alien girls, and the 80’s-style pre-prom training montage, and the fact the girl was the rare alien Dandy enrolled to the school to find in the first place, but he, QT and Meow simply forgot about by the end. With Dandy, if you don’t like one episode, just move on to the next.

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Space Dandy 2 – 03

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“Oh shut up. If we have this, we could do this and that, and then that’ll happen, and we’ll be able to eat as much as we want.”

This is Dandy’s defense this after Meow scolds him for buying a sketchy teleporting flashlight instead of food because the lady who sold it to him was hot. It also serves as a tidy and prescient synopsis for their adventures to come, which are many in number and absolutely insane in nature. Seriously, there hasn’t been a Dandy this free-wheelingly, awesomely nutty in quite a while, and yet it all holds together quite nicely when you remember Dandy’s above line.

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Essentially, the episode is a treatise on the merits of another one of Dandy’s lines, and the title of the episode itself: “Good things come to those who wait [baby].” That applies as much to us the audience as it does Dandy, Meow, and QT, as the episode is deliberately roundabout and baroque in its storytelling, and initially quite head-scratching and surreal. For a few minutes there, we had no idea what was going on. Like Dandy’s head, we were just…watching a fish set up an umbrella and beach towel.

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From the first scene at the space mall that accentuated the crippling amount of choice was available to Dandy and Meow to the “fistronaut’s” futuristic underground city, this was also one of the more detail and vista-packed episodes of Dandy in a while, though all of its episodes are pretty intricate. The episode also had fun with physics, astronomy, and relativity, and dished out some very painterly, lyrical animation for the boat trip up the water column from Planet Pushy Boyfriend to Planet Girlfriend. Even those random names describe the planets pretty well in their way.

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There are a lot of familiar Dandyisms on display here: from Meow’s hunger leading to crazy adventures, to Dandy snatching perceptiveness out of the jaws of ignorance, to Dr. Gel almost capturing Dandy, to a hastily-told but intricate look into the worlds orbiting one of the countless stars in space. Dandy and Meow also witness a couple more ends: both the end of the short-sighted civilization of arrogant, mean-spirited, clothed fish, to the fishtronaut himself, who turns into grilled fish that is the food Dandy promised the flashlight would ultimately provide.

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Also like many other Dandy episodes, this one has high re-watch value, though there’s nothing like being blissfully in the dark and wondering precisely how (or if) the show is going to divine a coherent resolution from all the colorful chaos. And no show airing now is quite as good at bending my minds and making me hungry at the same time. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to attempt to locate some grilled fish. The more interesting the life they’ve lived, the tastier they are.

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